On Our Selection, by Steele Rudd

Chapter 20.

The Cow We Bought.

When Dad received two hundred pounds for the wheat he saw nothing but success and happiness ahead. His faith in the farm and farming swelled. Dad was not a pessimist — when he had two hundred pounds.

“Say what they like,” he held forth to Anderson and two other men across the rails one evening —“talk how they will about it, there’s money to be made at farming. Let a man WORK and use his HEAD and know what to sow and when to sow it, and he MUST do well.” (Anderson stroked his beard in grave silence; HE had had no wheat). “Why, once a farmer gets on at all he’s the most independent man in the whole country.”

“Yes! Once he DOES!” drawled one of the men — a weird, withered fellow with a scraggy beard and a reflective turn of mind.

“Jusso,” Dad went on, “but he must use his HEAD; it’s all in th’ head.” (He tapped his own skull with his finger). “Where would I be now if I hadn’t used me head this last season?”

He paused for an answer. None came.

“I say,” he continued, “it’s a mistake to think nothing’s to be made at farming, and any man” (“Come to supper, D— AD!”—’t was Sal’s voice) “ought t’ get on where there’s land like this.”

“LAND!” said the same man —“where IS it?”

“Where IS it?” Dad warmed up —“where IS N’T it? Isn’t this land?” (Looking all round.) “Isn’t the whole country land from one end to the other? And is there another country like it anywhere?”

“There isn’t!” said the man.

“Is there any other country in th’ WORLD” (Dad lifted his voice) “where a man, if he likes, can live” (“Dad, tea!”) “without a shilling in his pocket and without doing a tap of work from one year’s end to the other?”

Anderson didn’t quite understand, and the weird man asked Dad if he meant “in gaol.”

“I mean,” Dad said, “that no man should starve in this country when there’s kangaroos and bears and”—(Joe came and stood beside Dad and asked him if he was DEAF)—“and goannas and snakes in thousands. Look here!” (still to the weird man), “you say that farming”—(Mother, bare-headed, came out and stood beside Joe, and asked Anderson if Mrs. Anderson had got a nurse yet, and Anderson smiled and said he believed another son had just arrived, but he hadn’t seen it)—“that farming don’t pay”—(Sal came along and stood near Mother and asked Anderson who the baby was like)—“don’t pay in this country?”

The man nodded.

“It will pay any man who ——”

Interruption.

Anderson’s big dog had wandered to the house, and came back with nearly all that was for supper in his mouth.

Sal squealed.

“DROP IT— DROP IT, Bob!” Anderson shouted, giving chase. Bob dropped it on the road.

“DAMN IT!” said Dad, glaring at Mother, “wot d’ y’ ALL want out ’ere? . . . Y-YOU brute!” (to the dog, calmly licking its lips).

Then Anderson and the two men went away.

But when we had paid sixty pounds to the storekeeper and thirty pounds in interest; and paid for the seed and the reaping and threshing of the wheat; and bought three plough-horses, and a hack for Dave; and a corn-sheller, and a tank, and clothes for us all; and put rations in the house; and lent Anderson five pounds; and improved Shingle Hut; and so on; very little of the two hundred pounds was left.

Mother spoke of getting a cow. The children, she said, couldn’t live without milk and when Dad heard from Johnson and Dwyer that Eastbrook dairy cattle were to be sold at auction, he said he would go down and buy one.

Very early. The stars had scarcely left the sky. There was a lot of groping and stumbling about the room. Dad and Dave had risen and were preparing to go to the sale.

I don’t remember if the sky was golden or gorgeous at all, or if the mountain was clothed in mist, or if any fragrance came from the wattle-trees when they were leaving; but Johnson, without hat or boots, was picking splinters off the slabs of his hut to start his fire with, and a mile further on Smith’s dog was barking furiously. He was a famous barker. Smith trained him to it to keep the wallabies off. Smith used to chain him to a tree in the paddock and hang a piece of meat to the branches, and leave him there all night.

Dad and Dave rode steadily along and arrived at Eastbrook before mid-day. The old station was on its last legs. “The flags were flying half-mast high.” A crowd of people were there. Cart-horses with harness on, and a lot of tired-looking saddle-hacks, covered with dry sweat, were fastened to cart-wheels, and to every available post and place. Heaps of old iron, broken-down drays and buggies and wheel-barrows, pumps and pieces of machinery, which Dad reckoned were worth a lot of money, were scattered about. Dad yearned to gather them all up and cart them home. Rows of unshaven men were seated high on the rails of the yards. The yards were filled with cattle — cows, heifers, bulls, and calves, all separate — bellowing, and, in a friendly way, raking skins and hair off each other with their horns.

The station-manager, with a handful of papers and a pencil behind his ear, hurried here and there, followed by some of the crowd, who asked him questions which he didn’t answer. Dad asked him if this was the place where the sale was to be. He looked all over Dad.

A man rang a bell violently, shouting, “This way for the dairy cows!” Dad went that way, closely followed by Dave, who was silent and strange. A boy put a printed catalogue into Dad’s hand, which he was doubtful about keeping until he saw Andy Percil with one. Most of the men seated on the rails jumped down into an empty yard and stood round in a ring. In one corner the auctioneer mounted a box, and read the conditions of sale, and talked hard about the breed of the cattle. Then:

“How much for the imported cow, Silky? No.1 on the catalogue. How much to start her, gentlemen?”

Silky rushed into the yard with a shower of sticks flying after her and glared about, finally fixing her gaze on Dad, who was trying to find her number in the catalogue.

“A pure-bred ‘Heereford,’ four years old, by The Duke out of Dolly, to calve on the eighth of next month,” said the auctioneer. “How much to start her?”

All silent. Buyers looked thoughtful. The auctioneer ran his restless eyes over them.

Dad and Dave held a whispered consultation; then Dad made a movement. The auctioneer caught his eye and leant forward.

“FIVE BOB!” Dad shouted. There was a loud laugh. The auctioneer frowned. “We’re selling COWS, old man,” he said, “not running a shilling-table.”

More laughter. It reached Dave’s heart, and he wished he hadn’t come with Dad.

Someone bid five pounds, someone else six; seven-eight-nine went round quickly, and Silky was sold for ten pounds.

“Beauty” rushed in.

Two station-hands passed among the crowd, each with a bucket of beer and some glasses. Dad hesitated when they came to him, and said he didn’t care about it. Dave the same.

Dad ran “Beauty” to three pound ten shillings (all the money he had), and she was knocked down at twelve pounds.

Bidding became lively.

Dave had his eye on the men with the beer — he was thirsty. He noticed no one paid for what was drunk, and whispered his discovery to Dad. When the beer came again, Dad reached out and took a glass. Dave took one also.

“Have another!” said the man.

Dave grinned, and took another.

Dad ran fifteen cows, successively, to three pounds ten shillings.

The men with the beer took a liking to Dave. They came frequently to him, and Dave began to enjoy the sale.

Again Dad stopped bidding at three pounds ten shillings.

Dave began to talk. He left his place beside Dad and, hat in hand, staggered to the middle of the yard. “WOH!” he shouted, and made an awkward attempt to embrace a red cow which was under the hammer.

“SEV’N POUN’— SEV’N POUN’— SEV’N POUN’,” shouted the auctioneer, rapidly. “Any advance on sev’n POUN’?”

“WENNY (hic) QUID,” Dave said.

“At sev’n poun’ she’s GOING?”

“Twenny (hic) TWO quid,” Dave said.

“You haven’t twenty-two PENCE,” snorted the auctioneer.

Then Dave caught the cow by the tail, and she pulled him about the yard until two men took him away.

The last cow put up was, so the auctioneer said, station-bred and in full milk. She was a wild-looking brute, with three enormous teats and a large, fleshy udder. The catalogue said her name was “Dummy.”

“How much for ‘Dummy,’ the only bargain in the mob — how much for her, gentlemen?”

Dad rushed “Dummy.” “Three poun’ ten,” he said, eagerly.

The auctioneer rushed Dad. “YOURS,” he said, bringing his hammer down with a bang; “you deserve her, old man!” And the station-manager chuckled and took Dad’s name — and Dad’s money.

Dad was very pleased, and eager to start home. He went and found Dave, who was asleep in a hay-stack, and along with Steven Burton they drove the cow home, and yarded her in the dark.

Mother and Sal heard the noise, and came with a light to see Dad’s purchase, but as they approached “Dummy” threatened to carry the yard away on her back, and Dad ordered them off.

Dad secured the rails by placing logs and the harrow against them, then went inside and told Mother what a bargain he’d made.

In the morning Dad took a bucket and went to milk “Dummy.” All of us accompanied him. He crawled through the rails while “Dummy” tore the earth with her fore-feet and threw lumps of it over the yard. But she wasn’t so wild as she seemed, and when Dad went to work on her with a big stick she walked into the bail quietly enough. Then he sat to milk her, and when he took hold of her teats she broke the leg-rope and kicked him clean off the block and tangled her leg in the bucket and made a great noise with it. Then she bellowed and reared in the bail and fell down, her head screwed the wrong way, and lay with her tongue out moaning.

Dad rose and spat out dirt.

“Dear me!” Mother said, “it’s a WILD cow y’ bought.”

“Not at all,” Dad answered; “she’s a bit touchy, that’s all.”

“She tut-tut — TUTCHED YOU orright, Dad,” Joe said from the top of the yard.

Dad looked up. “Get down outer THAT!” he yelled. “No wonder the damn cow’s frightened.”

Joe got down.

Dad brought “Dummy” to her senses with a few heavy kicks on her nose, and proceeded to milk her again. “Dummy” kicked and kicked. Dad tugged and tugged at her teats, but no milk came. Dad couldn’t understand it. “Must be frettin’,” he said.

Joe owned a pet calf about a week old which lived on water and a long rope. Dad told him to fetch it to see if it would suck. Joe fetched it, and it sucked ravenously at “Dummy’s” flank, and joyfully wagged its tail. “Dummy” resented it. She plunged until the leg-rope parted again, when the calf got mixed up in her legs, and she trampled it in the ground. Joe took it away. Dad turned “Dummy” out and bailed her up the next day — and every day for a week — with the same result. Then he sent for Larry O’Laughlin, who posed as a cow doctor.

“She never give a drop in her life,” Larry said. “Them’s BLIND tits she have.”

Dad one day sold “Dummy” for ten shillings and bought a goat, which Johnson shot on his cultivation and made Dad drag away.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33